Subscription Bundles for Kids

Long before the covid pandemic, books have been a core part of library services. Getting those books into the hands of kids and families while the physical building has been closed has been a challenge. My library decided to try a service that many libraries already offer in some capacity: subscription bundles.

Subscription bundles are similar to the concept of a subscription box (except free and no box). Readers fill out an online form and library staff pull 5-8 books for them, based on age and interests, each month for three months (with the option to renew).

The concept is simple, and the reader’s advisory work can be a lot of fun too. You are limited by what is on the shelves at the time, but you aren’t rushed by a grown-up who only has a few minutes in the library. You can promote different kinds of materials a family may not always consider (or find)–graphic novels, nonfiction, and more. And there is a small benefit of sometimes being able to squeeze into a bundle an on-topic book that is a hard sell in person–but a kid might give it a try when they are looking at it on their own.

Subscription Bundle Form

Families sign-up for the subscription bundle service by filling out a Google form found on our website. The public-facing description of this service, crafted by our marketing department, is:

Spend more time reading, and less time choosing! Let your favorite Westerville librarians bundle together 5-8 books for you each month, based on your interests. For ages 0-18

You’ll receive an email when your bundle is ready to pick up at the drive-thru. (After 3 months, you’ll have the option to continue your subscription.)

Our website directs people to our Google form:

The questions on the form include:

  • Email Address
  • First and Last Name
  • Recipient’s Name (if not you)
  • Library Card Number
  • Recipient’s Age (changed from an initial grade range)
  • Tell us about 3 things the recipient is interested in. (Examples: trains, dinosaurs, fairy tales, comics, mysteries, favorite authors, series, etc.) 
  • Is there anything else you’d like us to know? (Optional: book you enjoyed recently (or didn’t), reading level, etc.)

The form has stayed the same for the last few months with a few small updates including an increased time frame of expecting your bundle to be ready in 5 days (started at 3 days) and a change to the age question. Initially, this question had been a drop down based on grade (Baby/Toddler, PreS, K-3, 4-6, Middle School, Teen). This worked for most age ranges, but the K-3 age range could be particularly tricky, since the books a Kindergartener may want to read or have read to them can be very different than the books a 3rd grader is looking for. So, we changed this to a fill-in-the-blank general age question.

Subscription Bundle Organization

This is where things can get tricky, particularly at the incredibly high volume we are operating at.

The Google form populates a spreadsheet of responses. The spreadsheet looks a bit like this. (Columns with any patron identifying information are hidden. Filter is only on to highlight bundles I’ve personally filled.)

The left part of the spreadsheet contains the rest of the columns that match the form–date the form was submitted, email address, recipient’s name, library card, etc.

We fill in the columns starting with “Bundle 1 Staff Member.” Each round of bundles has its own set of columns, including:

  • Bundle 3: Staff Name (the staff member who took the bundle)
  • Bundle 3: Date (the date the bundle is supposed to be filled)
  • Bundle 3: Books (books pulled for that bundle)
  • Done: Initials of staff member who processed the bundle and took its contents to the drive thru
  • Bundle 3: Email Sent? (labeled when an email is sent the next morning to the people whose bundles were filled)

You may have noticed that, unless you cancel or don’t pick up two bundles, families are automatically set to receive three bundles, and then they can renew for an additional three months (and so on). This makes for a very long spreadsheet.

Since part of the perk of a bundle is to make sure a child doesn’t receive the same books twice, we don’t want to delete old columns or start a new spreadsheet for renewals (since that means more places to check for titles that were shared before). And we can’t hide columns that aren’t as necessary later (such as the name of the staff member who filled the first bundle when you are filling bundle four, because, at the very bottom of the spreadsheet, new forms are being filled out–meaning some people on the spreadsheet haven’t received any bundles yet.

I do wonder if there is a way to streamline this a bit more–maybe with a tab based system? Maybe bundles could be moved to a new tab when they move on to bundle 2 or bundle 3–that might allow for some columns to be hidden for bundles farther down the renewal process, while still allowing first bundles to be added to the original tab. That would involve checking more places, but they would all still be in one spreadsheet–and we still have to scroll a ton to check each column when we are receiving a mix of bundle 1, 2, 3, and 4’s to fill each day. (Sorry if that didn’t make sense–figuring out a way to make this process flow a little smoother still flummoxes me).

Keeping Track of Bundles

There is another step here as well. The spreadsheet doesn’t auto-populate bundle 2 and bundle 3 dates, and we had quite a rush of bundle form submissions over the course of just one week in early January. Those renewals have since been spread out using our Google Calendar.

Whenever we fill a first bundle, we also create an appointment on our department’s Google Calendar. This lets us see (and print out) a list of all of the bundles to be filled on a particular day. This looks a little like the image below (much of it is blurred because of kids names).

During pandemic hours, we are closed on Sundays,
and we moved bundles off of Saturdays due to how many other responsibilities we have on those days.

Our manager works on assigning bundles to various days to spread out the workload.

For many of us, our first step for the day is adding the dates for bundles to be filled that day to the spreadsheet for easier searching. This isn’t a permanent part of the routine, but for myself and many of my coworkers, we’ve found it really useful to see those dates in the spreadsheet too instead of having to look back and forth between the calendar and the spreadsheet multiple times a day.

Cancellations, Renewals, and No Shows…Oh my.

There are many more components to this service too including:

  • keeping track of patrons who have chosen to cancel their subscription
  • keeping track of patrons who failed to pick up their bundle repeatedly
  • asking if patrons want to renew their bundle after their first three months are up

My manager has been keeping track of all of these moving parts in separate spreadsheets.

Subscription Bundle Creation

A few hundred words later, and I haven’t actually talked about making a bundle yet! Each bundle takes time–I’d estimate about 20-30 minutes each from start to finish. Sometimes more, sometimes less–more if someone has particularly nuanced requests, and you can’t select books used in the last 2-3 bundles; less if someone more generally wants “series for third graders.”

Filling a Bundle:

  1. Look at the calendar and spreadsheet for bundles assigned to that day. Type your name in the appropriate “Staff Name” column for any bundles you are claiming.
  2. Look at the reported age and interests, as well as previously selected books if this is a bundle that has been filled previously. Either use the catalog or walk the shelves to find 5-8 books that fit those interests that haven’t been given to this person before.
    *To save time, I’ve been intentionally picking bundles that are for a similar age range and interests, if possible. For example, if there are 30 bundles that day, and 6 kids say they want Dog Man readalikes, I start by claiming all of those bundles. This lets me sweep the shelves for anything that applies, divide them up by kid, and then look for more specific titles to flesh out remaining gaps. This has also helped me from “competing” with my fellow coworkers for titles–if we are all looking for the one “available” copy of the newest InvestiGATORS book, only one of us will find it, and the rest will need to find a new book to fill our bundle.
  3. Once I’ve found all of my books (and sorted them by kid), I type the titles of the books into the Google Spreadsheet column for that bundle’s books. I double check that anything I pulled wasn’t used before.
  4. At this point, if this is the first bundle, I add appointments to the Google Calendar for the next two bundles.
  5. At a service point with access to our ILS, I put the books on hold for the appropriate library card. There may be some rearranging if a book I pulled off the shelf is on hold for another patron.
  6. After putting the books on hold, I check them in, processing hold slips for each book.
  7. Books are bundled together using a H-band. Shortest in the front for easiest check out at the drive thru window.
  8. If this is a first bundle, the bundle gets a manila envelope with some goodies–a bookmark, a sticker, a library flyer, and more.
  9. Whether this is a first bundle or a later bundle, a card is added to the front of the pile with the recipient’s name.


Our bundles are secured with H bands. These four-way rubber bands work well for holding big stacks of books together.

These Amazon ones are more brightly colored, but they can be a bit floppy depending the size of the stack you are filling. (See the lack of fit over the smaller, thinner first chapter books.)

These DEMCO H bands fit better to essentially any size stack of materials, but they do have a different texture that I’m not personally a fan of.

Giant rubber bands have also worked in a pinch when we run out of h bands. We don’t ask patrons to return the h bands, though they sometimes do.

Subscription Cards:

Each bundle comes with a subscription card taped to the top book. These have room for us to write the recipient’s name:

These were designed, printed, and cut by our amazing marketing department.

Bundle Contents:

What kind of books might make it into a bundle? There are some pictures above, but I’ve also pulled some title lists of bundles that I’ve created over the last few months. I aim for the same selection principles I use for my book talks — a variety of types of materials, some easier and some harder, and lots of diversity, but I’m also trying to meet each child’s needs and interests with what we have on the shelf at that moment. This can make some bundles frustrating to pull when all of my favorite books are checked out!

  • 18 months. Board books, lift the flap, really any topic.
    • Where’s the Unicorn? (Arrhenius)
    • Never Touch a Tiger
    • Where is the Very Hungry Caterpillar (Carle)
    • Baby’s Big Busy Book (Katz)
    • What Is Baby Going to Do?
    • Baby Faces Peekaboo?
    • Let’s Find the Kitten
    • Pop-Up Peekaboo Pumpkin
  • 2nd Grade: Comics, Robots (Big Hero 6), Science
    • Baloney and Friends
    • Sadiq and the Bridge Builders
    • Ricky Ricotta’s Mighty Robot (Pilkey)
    • Big Hero 6 (graphic novel)
    • Hilo The Boy Who Crashed to Earth
    • Cat Kid Comic Club
    • Krypto the Superdog Here Comes Krypto
    • Max Axiom: Volcanoes
  • Grades 4-6. Dogman, Sports, Cars, Hilo, Minecraft. Reluctant reader.
    • Investigators Take the Plunge
    • Geronimo Stilton: Sewer Rat Stink
    • Bird and Squirrel: On the Run
    • Time Museum
    • Pacey Packer Unicorn Tracker
    • Agent Moose
    • Monster Mayhem
    • Drew and Jot
  • Teen. War, Magic/Fantasy, Space.
    • Illuminae
    • Mechanica
    • The Circle
    • Scythe
    • Rebel Rose
    • Poisoned

Tips and Advice

Ah, the hardest part of this to write, buried at the bottom of an already lengthy post.

First, the pros:

  • Subscription bundles are very popular at my library. We have had over 500 bundles to fill in one month.
  • During a time when people cannot or may not want to come into the library, this is a great way to get books into kids’ hands.
  • Circulation numbers are high!
  • Great books that aren’t always picked up can be sent home in bundles and given a chance at circulating.
  • I see the caregiver appeal, even outside of the pandemic. This is a great service for grown-ups-on-the-go with busy schedules, and for caregivers who simply can’t make it to the library regularly, especially bringing one or more kids in tow. There is a convenience to this service that can’t be beat.
  • The patron feedback is overwhelmingly positive. There is more positive feedback for bundles than many other services we offer.

Then, the cons:

  • Subscription bundles are very popular at my library. We have had over 500 bundles to fill in one month.
  • During this intermediary time, when the public is allowed back in the library but we are doing our best to stay away from them, pulling bundles is tough, since patrons get first use of the shelves.
  • Pulling bundles is time consuming. Selecting books for a child and all of the necessary processing can take 20-30 minutes per kid. Sometimes more (and sometimes less). In an effort to move through 30-40 bundles in a day, I sometimes find myself having to sacrifice finding the “perfect” book for a kid in place of finding something that is sort of related to their interests, simply because I don’t have enough time in a day to fill this many bundles and cover the rest of my responsibilities.
  • Long term, I wonder how this will affect weeding. We weed based on circulation numbers (and other criteria, but circulation is a big part). There are some books that I see get selected for bundles that are a bit dated and grungy looking, and that I know haven’t circulated on their own in a year or more. Will weeding stats still reflect kids’ interests if we are “forcing” (not the right word) them to check out books they wouldn’t have checked out otherwise? How will this reflect in physical space on our shelves in a few years?
  • Due to the popularity and patron feedback, subscription bundles can become what feels like the “most-important service” instead of one of many that serve different needs.

Before starting a subscription bundle service, here are some questions to ask:

  • Do you have the staffing to select, pull, and process bundles? If so, how many bundles can your staff reasonably do in a day while not detracting from other duties? If your staff doesn’t have the time to do each step of that process, is there a way to remove one or more steps to make the process easier? Do you need to set a cap on this service?
  • How does this fit in with what else you currently offer or don’t offer? There are some similarities in this service to teacher collections. Is there a way to merge the two?
  • Do you want this to be a subscription service? Do you have the long-term staffing to handle that? Do you have the current staffing to handle the additional organizational components of a subscription service–processing renewals, recording cancellations, scheduling future bundles?
  • What will your response be to families who want this service to be more frequent than your interval of choice? For example, each family gets a new bundle each month, but we have had many requests for us to pull new bundles for a family on a weekly or biweekly basis.
  • Where will people pick up their bundles? Do you have the physical space to put these bundles on holds shelves? What is the capacity of your physical space?
  • Who will handle cancellations? If your circulation staff normally processes cancelled holds, can they handle the increase in cancelled items created by this service?
  • Is there a way to make this service more accessible? For example, our service requires you to fill out a form online. You could call us, and we could fill out the form for you, but do people know that? For us, people have to pick up books at our physical location (for now anyway–schools might be an option long term). Can these bundles be picked up at other service points? Related–how easy is it for people in your community to get the library card required for sign-up?

Now, I’m going to be blunt. But, I also think you *really* have to be committed to this service to have read this far down the post, so if you have put the time in, you deserve to hear the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Subscription bundles are great. Families love them. In small does, I love them. I love reader’s advisory, and I love picking out the perfect books for a child. More books check out than ever before. Our service are more convenient than ever before.

At the same time, my biggest pro and con for this service is what my particular library experienced: we got a little bit of social media promotion from some happy families, and we have been filling over 500 bundles a month. That means, in a month like February, we pulled at least 3000 books for patrons (estimating 6 books out of 5-8, though most bundles include 8 books). If each bundle takes 25 minutes (average) to work through all of the steps of selection and processing, we spent, as a staff, at least 200 hours pulling and processing bundles (in perspective, with four 40 hour weeks in a month, one person works about 160 hours a month).

We are lucky to have a very large staff, but with many hours work from home to accommodate social distancing, reopening to the public, desk and customer service hours, full programming schedules, and more–this has been tough. It makes work days even more exhausting, during a period of peak stress as we all adjusted to the library building being available to the public again, many personal questions about vaccines, and the reintroduction of services (or even just conversations around reintroduction of services), all on top of everything we have added to our plates since the pandemic began.

Bundles are great when everyone has time to handle the workload. Before starting something like this, really think about what you and your staff have time (and mental capacity) for. Maybe you need to set a cap–only 100 bundles at a time, with a waiting list of additional participants. Maybe you need to evaluate how to make each step of the process take less time by not getting quite this elaborate. Plan a way to back out if needed. Subscription bundles are a fantastic service–but make sure to be wary of the time and logistics before committing.

Teen Craft Kit: Bubble Tea

Oh my goodness, can it be????? Michala has actually written a blog post?! 

I have! And it is for a socially distanced Covid time craft that had full attendance and gotten positive reviews from teenagers….via their parent’s emailing me. 😊 

My teens have gotten seriously burnt out of computer time for all the things. And in July or August I tried a grab and go craft program that could be picked up through our drive-up window. (I’ll make another blog post on this one soon – I’m on a roll!) And because it had 16 teens sign up, pick up, and do the crafts I knew I hit the jackpot on programming during this weird time. 

On Monday, September 14, the next teen craft kit went out to registrants; this time they had option of being picked up at the drive-up window or being mailed to registrants. And allowing for mailing is really the way to go! Out of 25 teens that signed up 21 requested the supplies be mailed to them which means I was able to get a fun afternoon project to kids that may not otherwise have been able to get the supplies. (Thank you, USPS, please continue surviving so I can keep this going.)

Looking for more Mail-To-You Kit Ideas? Check out:

Baby-Sitters Club Membership Kits
Camp Half Blood Welcome Kits

This magical Teen Craft Kit for September that had 25 teen registrants?

Bubble Tea!


It was really a simple and cost-effective kit to put together too. Each kit wound up being a little under $1 as I was able to buy my supplies off Amazon. (And while they not my favorite supplier, it is my fastest and most reliable option at the moment.)  

I bought a multipack of milky tea sachets: Prince of Peace 3 in 1 Hong Kong Style Tea Latte (30 Sachets) 


And a combo pack of boba pearls and hygienically wrapped boba straws: BOBA Black Tapioca Pearl Bubble Tea, 2 Pack (Each 8.8 OZ) + 1 Pack of 50 BOBA Straws (Variety Color) 


I then raided our coffee station and took Splenda packets that we had on hand, grabbed some of our tiny weird shaped baggies, and a bunch of DVD cases to start packing things up. 

Every kit got 1 tea sachet, 1 Splenda packet, 1 ½ T of tapioca pearls, and a straw. I also placed my business card in the kit in case of any questions. 

Upcycling DVD cases as packaging, meant that I got to be creative in the design for directions (making sure to include ingredients/allergen information) while also ensuring that no matter which delivery option they chose (mailing or drive-up) the contents would remain secure. 

And for only about $1 per person, we had a simple snacky craft, which reinforced basic cooking skills, following directions, and patience…and the teens loved it! 

Happy Little Painters -Teen Programming

You may have noticed the retro uptrends lately. 80’s band tees and cartoons, scrunchies, vinyl records, fanny packs, and even the Walkman is releasing an updated version for it’s 40th anniversary. The past is alive and well in pop culture and teens are living for the nostalgia…..even if though they weren’t around for the orininals. One case in point is Bob Ross. He is everywhere. There are Bob Ross puzzles, Bob Ross tee shirts, Bob Ross board games, Bob Ross Halloween costumes, and of course Bob Ross library programs. 

I have successfully run Happy Little Painters, a Bob Ross inspired teen painting programin two unique ways with registration filling up in a matter of days. (I prefer to run programs that do not require registration, however when there are specific material needs I have to know how many kiddos I’ll have coming in.) 

My first Happy Little Painters program took place over the summer out on the front lawn. Each participant received a canvas panel, a paint palette, their choice of tempera paints to use (I always use tempera paints for teens because someone always winds up painting themselves, their friends, their clothes, or their friend’s clothes), a brush, and a cup of water and were let loose to sit on the disposable tablecloths I laid out in the various shady places of our lawn. 

There were no rules on what they should paint, but were encouraged to paint what was around them or use it as inspiration. We have many happy little things that can be seen from the front lawn: trees, flowers, clouds, CVS…. and a lot of happy things were created. At the end of the program each teen was able to take home their work and also got a pin for participating.

The second time I ran Happy Little Painters, we were indoors. I started the program watching the intro and 5 minutes of an episode of The Joy of Painting  to show how quickly speed painting actually goes. I then kept a still of the end picture frozen on the screen and allowed everyone  to create at their own pace trying out their own techniques in recreating the picture. 

Most followed the plan and created a scene reminiscent to the original, however there were a few teens that wanted to create original pieces of art. (While not following the idea of the program teens painting to the beat of their own drum were still actively participating and I am not one to dissuade art, expression, or participation simply because it wasn’t the “assignment”) At the end of the program each teen, once again, got to keep their art and also received a certificate for participation.

Since running these programs I have learned that the Bob Ross company is very litigious about the use of the name Bob Ross and the phrase “happy little trees”, so I foresee a title change going forward with additional programs of this vein for me. However, Bob Ross was not mentioned in any marketing for the program. I was vaguely dressed like a certain bearded, afro-ed, painter of yesteryear and spoke in a more peaceful, dulcet tone than my own voice, but I find painting brings out the more meditative side to me anyway… and really, who doesn’t rock a permed wig to work occasionally?

Teen Passive Program: Coloring

Kids have always been afforded coloring sheets, and then adults realized that “hey this is really relaxing” and the adult coloring book craze began…but somehow teens were, for the most part, left out in the coloring cold. When I inherited my teen department it actually came with a a few coloring books for use in house, but they were not really utilized by our teens.

Our current selection of coloring books in the Teen Room

I could tell there was a want, as many times the books would be looked at, but I think they were tired of the books we had and wanted things that were less intricate to color in. So came my quest for some new fun coloring books!

I started trolling Amazon looking for simple pictures, pop culture references, and random odd things. (This can sometimes be harder than it sounds as when the pictures get simplified they can begin to look very juvenile.) However, once you fall down the rabbit hole you can find an amazing plethora of coloring books such as:

Every other week I do wind up going through the coloring books looking for any inappropriate additions to the books, or as I call “my sweep for Ds and Fs”. Any swear words, social media handles, or genitalia drawn in gets pulled from the books. I also will pull any overly scribbled on pages because when there is a lot of scibblage no one will continue to color on that page. I don’t pull all additions from the book though and sometimes you wind up with some greatness.

Occasionally, I will also have a large coloring sheet printed out and I will tape it to a coffee table that I have in the teen room for some “allowed vandalism”. It stays on the table until it is either colored in, has lost the battle to swear words, penises, and “follow me @s”, or my favorite death, having every square inch covered in Old Town Road lyrics and a rainbow of a million “YEETS”. (Does that make it Yeeted to death? Yoted?)

And sometimes you wind up with some gorgeous, collaborative art.

Teen Passive: Concentrate on Charms

Every month I host a passive activity in the teen room. Sometimes they are repeat styles of something like Coloring, Book-in-a-Bottle or Book Emoji Storylines where the shredded or emoji explained book will change, but the concept stays the same: identify the title. But in October, something magical happens at the Westerville Public Library…the whole building turns into a school for witches and wizards of all ages and we showcase the magic of the library during the Wizards & Wands Festival.

2018 was the first installment of this festival and the outpouring from the community was enormous! This year with one magical festival under our belt the Wizards & Wands Festival has grown even larger and features all kinds of fun activities around the building leading up to the night of festivities. One of those activities is my October Teen Passive: Concentrate on Charms.

All across the largest wall of my Teen Room are different wand movements for spells from the Harry Potter Universe, each one labeled with it’s name for identification purposes, as we can’t all be Hermione and recognize each swish and flick or the different spells/charms.(Thank you Potterhead superfans and Wizards Unite! game for the wand movements) Anyone wishing to participate can snag an answer sheet from the Teen Desk and wander through the stacks to the bright green wall in the hopes of finding the correct spells and drawing out the wand movements necessary to successfully cast it.

Searching the wall for the correct spells can take a bit of time as I only ask for 9 spells to be identified and there are 30 gracing the wall.

Each person can participate once per day and when their answers are returned to the Teen Desk they are awarded one prize ticket that can be turned in for a raffle style drawing during the Wizards & Wands event. While most of my passive activities are limited to teens only, the W&W Themed passive for October is open to all ages. The Wizards & Wands event will be this Friday (October 25, 2019 5-9pm), but Concentrate on Charms will remain up through the end of the month.

This passive activity has already had over 250 answer sheets returned to the Teen Desk and there are still 8 more days to play (2 more days if you are collecting those prize tickets!)

Steven Universe Color Party

This coming weekend Cartoon Network is showing every single Steven Universe episode ever, all leading up to the premiere of the new Steven Universe musical on Monday…so this feels like a great time to talk about my Steven Universe Color Party program!

Steven Universe
Steven Universe and the Crystal Gems (Pearl, Amethyst and Garnet).(Cartoon Network)

If you are unfamiliar with the TV show Steven Universe let me try and catch you up to speed, even though I will not be able to do the show justice at all. Let me start by saying that it is the most LGBQT+ cartoon you will ever watch, it is political, diverse, and even though the entire premise revolves around alien gem lifeforms with special fighting powers it is completely relatable.

The first season features a goofy kid named Steven and weird alien adventures that he goes on with his female warrior guardians, the Crystal Gems. Steven is learning to master his alien gem powers as he is half human and half gem. His lovable human dad is a bit of an oaf and the other unique and diverse characters in Beach City are all given decently explored back stories which we learn throughout the seasons.

Then season two drops and you get more back story on the Gems and you begin to think wow there is more to this show than just a fun alien saving rainbow world….then seasons three through five having you question how you were lulled into thinking this was anything but an epicly awesome, equality driven ode to love, diversity, rainbows, and truth.

Steven Universe shows human nature better than any TV show I have ever seen. It may be geared for kids, tweens, and teens, but it does not shy away from big issues or dumb down it’s content. It walks the line of having pop culture appeal and being topically relevant to society which is why I think so many of my kids gravitate towards it. And is why this summer we needed to have a fun, light hearted party to celebrate the alien space gem warriors.

I planned stations and activities based upon the Crystal Gems’s strengths where each attendee got to go through different “training” with each Gem and of course it had to be very colorful.


Pearl is the mom figure of the group. She is always looking out for Steven’s best interest and trying to guide him through life. While she is a stickler for rules, Pearl understands that Steven learns in his own way and helps teach him skills he needs as a Crystal Gem, like bubbling.

(Cartoon Network)

For Pearl’s station we worked on our bubbling skills. I added various food coloring colors to bubble mix and had teens blow bubbles using the colored mixture at white paper. You can also place bubble mix in cups and use a straw to blow bubbles in the cup until the mixture overflows for more intense bubble shadows.

Garnet (Sapphire & Ruby)

(Alexbandria @Mrs_Motionless)

Garnet is actully a gem fusion. She is the combination of Ruby and Sapphire. So for her station teens got to play with my giant spin art machine* and fuse colors together.


Amethyst is a bit of a rebel in the group. She is the gem that pushes boundaries and speaks her mind bluntly. Amethyst also has a fun kid like streak to her perosnality. Since everything is very straight forward, upfront and fun with Amethyst we needed an activity that fit that criteria.

So instead of Steven Tag we played Rainbow Tag!

Rainbow tag is exactly like regular tag only all players are running around with handfuls of color run or Holi Festival powder*. The regular rules of the game still apply, but with a twist. One person is it and will chase other players in a designated area trying to tag someone, if they succeed the tagged individual becomes the next person that is it and the cycle continues. The twist is that instead of tagging someone by tapping them with a hand, Rainbow Tag lets you tag someone by throwing your handful of color powder at another player. The game ends when you run out of powders or out of energy to run around, whichever comes first.

Peridot & Lapis Lazuli

Peridot and Lapis Lazuli are newer members of the Crystal Gems. (Another member of the squad that could have been included in this activity is Jasper, but I had to cut her out of this area as my printer decided it was no longer going to print properly and was unable to have her repped during the program.) Peridot was a mathematical Home World Gem that was converted to the ideas of the Crystal Gems and began to fight to save humanity. Lapis Lazuli is a water based Gem that had been fractured during the first Gem War and was bubbled for safety reasons until freed by Steven. (The militant, Jasper was also a Home World Gem and had a longer redemption arc before joining the Crystal Gems.

File:Lapis Jasper Peridot sketch By Peri.png
Lapis Jasper Peridot sketch By Peri.png

This final station was all about accuracy, power, and water, which could only mean…..water balloons! Teens got to aim and throw water balloons filled with colored water at targets to improve their Crystal Gem fighting skills.

All in all we had an awesome time and there was a lot of very heated discussions about Crystal Gems and their character flaws while having fun with art!

*Giant spin art machine and DIY color run powder directions will be featured in next week’s blog post

Teen Volunteer Training

I am incredibly lucky to have a large base of teen volunteers to help at Westerville Public Library. Part of that is because of school requirements; high schoolers and middle schoolers have community service time as a graduation requirement in Westerville City School District. I also have many teens who are actively seeking scholarships or involved in extracurriculars that require or encourage helping out in the community that they live. All in all I have a little over 350 active teen volunteers every school year. The thing is, all of those teens need to be trained – so, each month, I run Teen Volunteer Training.

On the third Monday of each month, I can be found leading a one hour teen volunteer training session for ages 12-18. During the school year training covers how to help out at library programs and how to shelve materials in designated areas. Teens that attend training can begin selecting desired shifts and putting in some hours at the library for whatever their community service needs they have the very next day. (I really love how streamlined it has become.)

The training session is really simple. We lightly touch on the types of programs that teens can help at (storytimes, parties, special events, etc.) as well as special assignments that can become available throughout the year (making buttons, cutting out crafts, placing stickers, etc.). Because each program and librarian requesting the help is unique and the needs vary we do not spend a lot of time on this subject. However the basics of what is expected for helping at programs is covered, as well as talking about the general personalities; i.e. if you aren’t a fan of little kids….storytimes might not be your best fit. The WPL website also provides a link to a Google doc I maintain listing descriptions of more specific tasks that volunteers would be doing at each event.

The majority of the hour is focused on shelving training. Teens are able to help return materials in 3 locations: J Fiction, Teen Fiction, and DVDs. Spine labels and call numbers are explained, examples of different stickers that may be seen on books are shown, and then we get into the nitty gritty of the ABCs.

Like most fictions sections, our books are organized alphabetically by the author’s last name, then first name, then within that specific area the title of the book and/or series. I annoy my kids with several slides showing exactly what I mean by “author’s with the same last name” and that no matter how awesome you are about know series order they still go alphabetically. And then I up the ante and make them move and do things.

I start out getting groans and mumbles because I have us all sing the ABCs together and will stop or slow down if I don’t get participation from attendees. 

When teens show up at the beginning of the training I have the attendance sheet for sign-in* and everyone receives a beautiful paper with their last and first name on it. This paper comes into play after our lovely a capella, because it is actually their spine label featuring their very own call number. Each teenager is now a book and collectively they need to alphabetize themselves as if they are being placed on a shelf. 

Then comes the next physical movement and moment where teens will have to intereact with each other. Basket sorting! When setting up for the program I pull 10 items from each designated shelving area mix them up so they are out of alphabetical order and place each grouping in a basket for the trainees to sort and alphabetize while working together. Each team of teens will wind up sorting each basket of materials so that they can work with the items in a controlled environment. I, of course, throw some curve balls in the mix to make sure they all understand the order of author’s last name > author’s first name > title alphabetical system that we use and can correct any missteps along the way.

Then we get to do the super happy fun times tour and visit the areas where they get to shelve items! Starting in the Teen Dept. I show volunteers where to collect items needing to be shelved, where they get placed, and how to move book ends around. Most of the shelving in this area has bookends that are connected to the stacks and I teach them how to not only move the brackets back and forth along the track, but how to get them back in when they come out. Everyone get to “break a shelf” and practice moving the brackets and replacing them back properly.

DVD land is next with the same start as Teen, showing where to collect materials they get to re-shelve as service. Bonus time though because I sneak in one more round of alphabetizing training and have everyone select a DVD to shelve, let them loose in the stacks, and follow behind checking their placement to ensure we have it down. While they are winding through the stacks with DVDs in hand I remind them that shelving is not a race and that accuracy is key and what we are really looking for. If they need to sing the ABCs to themselves or take a minute to make sure it is being placed right, then do so. An item not in the correct location is as good as lost until it someone finds it.

After DVDs have been explored the last stop on the tour is the Youth Dept. We learn where materials to be shelved are located and have a look at the unique layout of the stacks in the area and I explain how to shift shelves. Because of our checkout rate and pages staying on top of things, very rarely do our volunteers need to know how to shift materials, however I’d rather have them armed with that knowledge than stumble across over packed shelves later.

At the end of the tour, we go over how to sign up for shifts using our system (which will be explained in a post on another day). And I implore them to please ask any questions and to make sure that they have things spelled correctly on the attendance sheet before I let them escape to the outside world armed with new knowledge, a pocket-sized handout on shelving basics, and my business card.

*Note: I try to keep registered programming to a minimum, however Teen Volunteer Training is one of those I do ask for sign-up. It helps me more easily check for applications and have the spine labels printed beforehand, as well as foreshadows IRL to the teens that they will need to sign up for things…like shifts. Teen Volunteer Training is also the one registered program that is the exception to the rule that only registered individuals can attend. I keep blank spine label forms in case I have kiddos wandering in to go through training so that they can be books too and we talk about responsibilities and signing up for things at the end of the training.

Programming By a Thread

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away I embroidered as a hobby. And occasionally I will come up with the grand idea that I will once again take up this hobby, so I buy oodles of threads and embroidery flosses in anticipation of projects that I will undoubtedly create…..except the actual creating of embroidered objects does not happen.

This means that I’ve got stacks on stacks on stacks, floss on floss on floss and is good news for all of my teens because that makes string art is an easy possibility for a program!

String art is a crazy simple program to produce, all you need is:

  • Wood
  • Finishing nails
  • Hammers
  • Embroidery floss
  • Paint is optional
  • Templates are optional as well

You can always buy wood boards off of Amazon:

Or you can be like me and run to your favorite tool supply store, buy some wood planks and ask them to cut them to your desired lengths for a small fee. After all, you might already need to go there to pick up hammers and finishing nails and why not make it one trip. (Pro-tip: Home Depot and Lowes make the first two cuts for free on each board)

Overall teens are pretty good about waiting for their turn and sharing hammers, but you will need several hammers on hand. You can probably beg, borrow, or steal some from co-workers if you do not have a small cache of them. I currently have 8 hammers in my supply, but after the popularity of my last program for string art I will need to purchase a few more to cut down on the wait times between each teen needing them.

I like to supply some simple templates of patterns as well as blank paper and pencils for those that want to be unique and create their own designs. There are a bunch of templates all over Pinterest, but I have found that designs turn out best when you have nails spaced 1-3 inches apart, depending on the shape. That also means that you can never have enough finishing nails on hand. Whatever number you think each piece will take, double it and make sure you have at least 1 emergency pack squirreled away for use when you run out at the end of the program with a couple of teens still creating things.

I begin String Art by explaining what tools and supplies everyone will have access to and go over basic safety rules for using hammers and nails for everyone. A small stack of planks and a bowl of nails is placed in the center of each table grouping and 4-6 teens can easily sit at station with enough room for their projects.I put paints, tape, and template supplies at a table near the front of the room so everyone can have access to them and distribute hammers to the tables after the general rules and safety talk.

The entire program runs at the pace of the teen creators. Some will be faster than others, some will make more in depth pieces, some will focus painting the board and mapping out their outline, while others will just jump right in and start hammering away like they are wielding Mjölnir. There is no right or wrong way for them to create and as you can see a lot of different creations come out of it.

Teen Advisory Board

Lots of libraries have advisory boards for their teenagers. A place where teens can voice their opinions, ask for materials and programs, and meet peeps from different schools (or even homeschoolers). When I became the Teen Librarian at Westerville, I inherited two: Junior Teen Advisory Board (JTAB) for middle schoolers and Teen Advisory Board (TAB) for High Schoolers.

At my previous library, at the advice and mentoring of my director, I tried to create a Teen Advisory Group. It somehow devolved from a group that met to help brainstorm, create, and inspire programming to being just another program I had to continually create new material for. Over the course of one semester it changed from being TAG: Teen Advisory Group to TAG: Teen Arts and Games, a hangout group that focused on activities and crafts.

It could have been the intense, once a week, schedule I was asked to implement for meetings. It could have been that I was a newly minted librarian and I was still testing the waters on what my program style was. The giant learning curve figuring out my new community coming from Chicagoland to western Kentucky. Or that no one knew what was going to happen with teen programming as I was literally the first Teen Librarian for Henderson Library and County. But somewhere along the way TAG changed and it was no longer an advisory group.

Arts & crafts and gaming programs are important and needed for teens, but that was not what I had prepped for. The new direction meant that I was quickly burning through all my programming ideas, that should have been spread over many months, and quickly burning out. During the small break in programming we had over winter break I was able to regroup and plan out some fun weekly activities without losing my mind but was never able to get a true advisory group off the ground.

And then I moved to Westerville, where there was already a Teen Advisory Board in place. And after acting as a substitute Teen Librarian during a maternity leave, I became the Teen Librarian…and wasn’t sure what to do with the advisory boards I inherited. After all my last foray into this type of programming fizzled out and turned into something completely different.

It was time for my new teens to school me, yo.

I was up front and honest about my experience with advisory groups to the JTAB and TABbers and asked how the program currently ran. Then we talked about what they wanted the group to be like. And over the course of one semester it changed from what I inherited to a hybrid of what my teens and I both wanted and needed.

Things that stayed the same:

  • When we meet – once a month on the last Thursday, for about an hour. JTAB at 6pm TAB at 7pm
  • Who it’s for – JTAB is for middle schoolers, TAB is for high schoolers
  • Service hours – as long as a teen signs in on the attendance sheet and participates in the meeting they get an hour of community service
  • Snacks – are served and enjoyed at the meetings, but can’t be taken home at the end
  • What we do – share wants for programming, library materials, and random conversations/ideas
  • Marketing – All members (including me) talk to teens in the community about coming to check out the fun we have at JTAB/TAB
  • Officers – TAB members elect officers for roles and more or less run the program with librarian guidance as needed
  • ARCs – anyone that attends can snag one ARCs to take home

Things that changed:

  • How to join – Show up! No more applying and interviewing, you show up you get to participate
  • Snacks – options are now a combo of healthy and sugary, but take into account shared allergies, religious dietary restrictions, and packaging (being able to save some snacks for the next meeting is a big plus!)
  • What we do – Create and run programs independently. Teens still help create programs and activities, but the onus of an entire program is no longer on their shoulders
  • Marketing – teens create special campaigns and activities to spread the word on the fun that we have at JTAB/TAB
  • ARCs Frenzy – anyone that attends can snag one or several ARCs to take home
  • Book reviews – JTAB and TABbers can fill out bookmark book reviews stating why they loved or hated a library book that gets tucked into it’s respective title

Small changes in how things went made a big difference for how we all view the advisory boards. Teens still get agency by sharing their ideas and wants, but don’t have the same pressures of having to be present all the time for everything. I don’t have have an overloaded schedule of crazy and have help in coming up with programs. And we all get snacks and hang time with people who’s lives may not cross paths if it weren’t for the library.

The Best Laid Plans

Sometimes, no matter how much you have prepared for a program. No matter how much you promoted it. No matter how excited you are…no one shows up.

It makes you question your teen librarian skills. Are you still cool? Still hip? Still with it?

I had a program like that this past week: Silent Card Castles.

The premise of the program is super easy. Over the course of an hour, teens use index cards to free build structures however they want to. There are no building rules beyond build a thing. Cards can be bent and mutilated beyond repair, ripped in half, stacked however they want. And, occasionally, (every 10-15 minutes) you throw out a challenge to them that they have to complete. Things like:

  • connect your structure to at least 1 other person’s creation
  • everyone stop building and spin around 3 times, then switch places with another builder
  • 30 second dance break
  • lights off, build in the dark
  • destroy those creations Godzilla style, then pick up all the cards

And throughout the hour teens are supposed to remain silent. It is meant to help recharge their brains thinking of ways to communicate without words, help them Zen out a bit with the creative but simple task of building things, and have an almost nostalgic kind of fun where they are completely unplugged for just a little bit. All you need to run this program is a room, a bunch of index cards, and some teenagers.

…..I had 2 of those 3 things on Wednesday.

In the past, when I’ve done this program I have had stellar attendance for something that is not food or tech related. My teens have found the fun in the simplicity of it all. Quietly groaning over the challenges I threw at them. Abandoning the silence rule and laughing hysterically when they smashed everything to the ground at the end.

But even with my promotion in the schools before summer break, even with social media and remind blasts, even with JTAB and TAB members telling other teens that they have come to to this is the past and that “it’s more fun than it sounds”. I was alone in a room until I admitted defeat and closed the program.

I had to enter a 0 in the attendance record and let my manager know that this time, not one teenager came to my program. I felt like I failed as a teen librarian. Like I failed my kids in providing them something fun and educational during the summer months when I am actually able to give them more varied programming. And in my little moment of professional self doubt, I threw the world’s smallest pity party.

But after taking a deep breath and utilizing the same skills I had hoped to foster in teens during the program. I reminded myself that even when a program fails. Even if a program falls of the rails with no hope of getting back on track. Even if in the middle of it all it turns into a dumpster fire. As long as I keep trying to engage teens, advocate for their wants/needs, and continue to grow with them. I am still a good teen librarian.

So when you have a program fail like mine did, take a deep breath, pick yourself back up, make yourself a s’more using that dumpster fire, and try again. Cause you are still a good teen librarian and you got this!